New Yorker

Scott Turow

My years as a prosecutor were an extraordinary education in the negative capacity of humanity. You’re like a proctologist — looking at human beings through the wrong end.

Scott Turow — former federal prosecutor, current Dentons partner, and critically acclaimed, bestselling novelist — at an interesting panel at this past weekend’s New Yorker Festival. The panel, moderated by Jeffrey Toobin, focused on writing about murder. Turow’s latest novel, Identical (affiliate link), is about a re-investigation of a murder many years after the fact.

It’s often noted that the United States is governed by the world’s oldest written constitution that is still in use. This is usually stated as praise, though most other products of the eighteenth century, like horse-borne travel and leech-based medical treatment, have been replaced by improved models.

Jeffrey Toobin, writing in the New Yorker about whether the current dysfunction of the federal government might be due, at least in part, to the Constitution.

(Additional notable quotes from his interesting article, after the jump.)

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325 West 52nd Street: modest on the outside, fabulous on the inside.

These are challenging times for print journalism. The Boston Globe, which the New York Times acquired in 1993 for $1.1 billion, recently sold for $70 million (or perhaps negative $40 million, as Matt Yglesias suggests). Jeff Bezos just bought the Washington Post for $250 million, a fraction of its former worth (and he may have paid four times its true value).

But print journalism was good to many people for many years. In the glory days of magazine writing, publications would pay several dollars a word for features that were thousands of words long. These generous fees might explain how a prominent magazine journalist amassed enough cash to buy a four-bedroom apartment Manhattan, which he recently sold to a law firm associate for just under $2 million.

That’s a sizable chunk of change for a young lawyer. How many sixth-year associates can afford $2 million apartments? Let’s learn more of the facts….

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Let’s talk about two of our favorite topics: money and politics. And the combination of the two, which creates both problems and opportunities for our democracy.

On Saturday I attended an excellent New Yorker Festival panel about politics and money, featuring some impressive speakers:

What did these distinguished and high-powered panelists have to say about the influence of money on our political system?

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It’s like Formula One. You want to see the car crash. We like to go to Rockefeller Center to watch the ice-skaters fall.

Carol Barbeiro, a lawyer, on why she went to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the ill-fated, accident-prone Broadway musical. (Her boyfriend added: “She wants to see blood.”)

new yorker cover.jpgThe current New Yorker caption contest is legally-themed and sexually explicit, so it begs for our attention.
The Nine get naughty! We couldn’t get permission to post it here, so you’ll have to click over to the New Yorker to check it out.
We did a little background check on the finalists for the caption contest. We were disappointed to discover that none of them is a lawyer. We were also disappointed by their captions:

“O.K., counsellor, we heard your argument. Now tell us a story.” - Fred Orelove, a non-profit director
“Five to four of us would like you to get the lights on your way out.” - Robert Shay, director the University of Missouri’s School of Music
“How long have you been standing there?”Evan Carrison, a Chicago artist

You can vote for one of those, but we’re hoping that someone with a J.D. can come up with something better. We’re holding a caption contest here at ATL. Our first submission comes from Larry Wood, the Chicago lawyer renowned for winning the New Yorker caption contest three times…

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sonia sotomayor above the law.jpgThe most recent New Yorker features a profile of the newest resident of the High Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Given the tone of the piece, you might think One First Street is turning into Melrose Place. Journalist Lauren Collins describes Sotomayor as “the first celebrity Justice”: a “diabetic, a divorcée, a dental-bill debtor, a person who, the night before her investiture ceremony, belted out “We Are Family” in a karaoke bar at a Red Roof Inn.”
The profile covers some familiar territory, highlighting attacks on Sotomayor’s intellect during the confirmation process and indignation over her aggressive questioning during oral arguments since taking a seat on the High bench.
Overall, though, it’s more favorable in tone than the profile of John Roberts in the magazine last year. As the WSJ Law Blog notes, Sotomayor comes across as “eminently personable” and as a “stickler for preparation.”
Tina Brown of the Daily Beast, a former editor of the New Yorker, is a bit more graphic in her reaction to the piece for NPR:

Brown says the justice comes across as an “up-from-the-bootstraps woman who loves to bust out a poker game and knock back a scotch.” But, Brown adds, she also comes across as meticulous, rigorous and heavily influenced by her mother, a nurse, who emphasized education above all else…
“Sotomayor is not a great prose styler, not a fancy-flourish merchant,” says Brown. “She’s not a person who’s going to reinvent the philosophical approach to law, but she does believe that the law is to be understood by the common man in the street. And I think that there’s a lot to be said for that, actually.”

We concur with Brown’s ruling on the piece. We’ve excerpted our favorite anecdote from the profile after the jump. Clerking for Sotomayor sounds fun….

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Barack Obama small President Barack Obama.jpgThe current New Yorker has an interesting piece by Jeffrey Toobin on President Obama’s judicial picks. Toobin took part in a live chat about the piece at NewYorker.com right now earlier today if you’re interested. (Try not to crash their website.).
UPDATE: The chat’s quite interesting. Toobin reveals why he likes Justice Souter best and answers this young wannabe judge’s question:

11:31 Guest: I’m a 25 year old law student, I want to be a judge, and my roommate smokes pot. How worried should I be? Do you think people will still care when I’m older?

11:32 Jeffrey Toobin: Don’t inhale! I’m kidding. I don’t think it will make a bit of difference. Our president has more or less admitted he was a pretty big pothead in his day, and it’s been a non-issue. Certainly the fact that your roommate smokes — not you — is irrelevant.

Toobin’s piece is available online to non-subscribers here. If you don’t feel like clicking through seven pages, here’s the ATL reader’s digest version:
Jeffrey Toobin small CNN New Yorker legal lawyer Above the Law blog.jpg

  • Aging liberal judges hung on through the Bush era, but once a Dem took over, they were ready to hang up their robes. Additionally, since 2006, Senator Patrick Leahy has prevented Bush’s nominees from getting through the Judiciary Committee. Now vacancies abound in the federal judiciary.
  • Bush kicked ass in choosing judges; Obama is taking his sweet time. In the first eight months of their respective terms, Bush nominated 52 judges while Obama has chosen 17.
  • Obama says he’s looking for “experiential diversity” in his judicial nominations: “not just judges and prosecutors but public defenders and lawyers in private practice.” But his first batch of nominees are mainly former judges, like SCOTUS justice Sonia Sotomayor and Indianapolis federal district judge David Hamilton, nominated by Obama to the Seventh Circuit.
    More bullets, after the jump.

    double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Peering Into The Crystal Ball for Obama’s Judicial Picks
    (Plus a live chat with the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin)”

  • larry wood.jpgWe know many lawyers who agonize over the New Yorker magazine’s weekly caption contest, desperately hoping to come up with a gnomic, witty caption worthy of selection. But we know of only one lawyer who has managed to come up with a winning caption three times. Let us introduce you to Larry Wood, an attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.
    Wood, who also teaches a housing and poverty law class at the University of Chicago, has won the weekly contest more often than anyone else. (A slight technicality: A man by the name of Carl Gable has won three times, but one of those was the New Yorker’s annual contest, which has since been replaced by the weekly contests.)
    Out of 38 submissions in the four-year history of the contest, Wood’s made it to the finals three times. That’s mighty impressive, given that he’s competing against at least 5,000 other caption entries each week, reports Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. So how’d he do it? Here’s what he told us on the phone this morning:

    Short is better. Incorporate everything that’s in the cartoon. In one cartoon I was working with, there was a dolphin and a panhandler. So I thought of all the cliches I could think of about dolphins and about panhandlers. Dolphins are extremely intelligent, etc. Then I came up with the caption that won. My colleagues thought it was a mean-spirited joke for a poverty lawyer to make.

    Maybe lawyers have advantages in the caption contests. As one friend of ours noted in response to Wood’s advice, “incorporating all the elements into your answer is actually a skill lawyers are supposed to use in their bar exam essays (and law school tort exams).”
    Check out Wood’s winners, including the controversial caption, after the jump.

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    john roberts.jpgEveryone’s a-twitter about Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Chief Justice John Roberts in this week’s New Yorker. And with good reason. We’re not sure whether the title of the profile, “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” is meant to describe Roberts or Toobin.
    We’re sure you’re familiar with Toobin, the ubiquitous legal analyst whose resume includes gigs with CNN and ABC, as well a Harvard Law School degree, a stint as an assistant U.S. attorney, time on the Oliver North trial, a Second Circuit clerkship, and many books, including The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. And he’s not yet 50 years old (though he’ll be 49 on Thursday, according to Wikipedia).
    But back to Roberts. He gets a fairly harsh appraisal in the profile, coming across as a political stooge:

    After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

    Toobin does not appear to be a fan of the Roberts Court. More on the elephant in the courtroom, after the jump.

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